Good news for Chinook salmon anglers: Fort Peck Reservoir and hatchery crews recently stocked record numbers of Chinook salmon fingerlings into Fort Peck Reservoir, with over 534 thousand being stocked this spring.
Initially, the outlook from the fall 2018 egg collection efforts did not look very promising. Due to fewer mature females being present in the system due to limited stockings during 2015 and 2016, FWP Fisheries and hatchery personnel were only able to collect just over 110 thousand eggs last fall.
On a positive note, with the few eggs that FWP was able to obtain on Fort Peck Reservoir, hatchery personnel did see a very good “eye-up” percentage. According to Wade Geraets, Fort Peck Hatchery Manager, “Eye-up is a developmental stage in the egg where the actual eyes are seen and gives staff good indications that the eggs have been fertilized and are near hatching. The eye-up percentage was over 75%, which suggests that the female Chinook salmon were very healthy and mature and were able to produce good, viable eggs.”
In addition, due to collaborative work with the Dakotas, egg numbers were greatly increased. North Dakota was able to supply almost 400 thousand eggs and South Dakota 150 thousand, bringing the total to almost 650 thousand eggs that were then hatched and reared at the Fort Peck Multispecies Fish Hatchery over the winter.
“We would like to give a big thanks to the North and South Dakota fisheries and hatchery staff for assisting us with surplus eggs to meet stocking requirements,” said Heath Headley, FWP Fort Peck Reservoir fisheries biologist.
According to Headley, Montana and North and South Dakota have worked collaboratively for many years, including supplementing eggs when one may be short and another had surplus. In addition, these salmon are the only disease-free certified Chinook salmon in North America.
“There have been some problems with the Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest salmon due to multiple diseases, including viruses and other pathogens that can negatively impact the overall health of the fishery,” said Headley. “We are very fortunate that Montana and the Dakotas have been able to maintain this healthy land-locked salmon fishery.”
FWP has an Aquatic Health Advisory Committee, that makes recommendations to the Fisheries Division Chief on fish health, whom then uses these recommendations in the decision-making process. “One of these recommendations is that all eggs or fish from outside the State of Montana, that are transported or shipped into the state, be disease-free certified,” said Geraets. “This also works for all eggs or fish that Montana ships or transports to other states across the country.”
Salmon were first introduced into Ft. Peck Reservoir in 1983. Due to the abundance of their preferred forage fish, cisco, salmon have shown excellent growth, with males maturing in two to four years and females in three to four years. This is the only Chinook fishery in Montana, so anglers travel from near and far in hopes of hooking up with these fresh water titans.
Headley hints that the salmon fishing in 2019 looks favorable based on stocking numbers in 2017 (345,000) and 2018 (377,000) as well as with numbers seen during 2018 fall surveys conducted. “Crews noticed good numbers of two-year old male salmon that averaged a little over five pounds during the fall 2018 collection efforts,” said Headley. “This is an encouraging sign that improved numbers of larger, older 3-year old salmon may be more abundant this year.”
(Photo caption: FWP’s BJ Kemp with a big female that was collected in 2017. Some of her offspring may be showing up on anglers line this summer)